After watching some impressive performances over the international break, Fiorentina returns to action with a trip to take on Hellas Verona. In 70 meetings since their first in Serie B back in 1929, the Viola hold a W36 D18 L16 advantage over the Scaligeri, including a mark of W7 D1 L2 in league play. While that may seem to favor the Gigliati, don’t forget that the Mastini put them to the sword in a 1-4 massacre at the Franchi, prompting the Curva to empty early; it was perhaps the worst showing in recent memory.
The referee for this one is 31-year-old Antonio Giua of Pisa; it’ll be just his 10th outing in the top flight. In 4 Serie A games this year, he’s issued 26 yellow cards, 5 red cards, and 3 penalties, which feels like a lot. This will be the second Fiorentina match he’s ever handled; the first was last year’s 1-0 win over Udinese, which featured a tremendous amount of midfield scuffling which he declined to legislate.
The match will be played Sunday, 24 November 2019, at 2:00 PM GMT/9:00 AM EST at the Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi in Verona. The forecast calls for a damp, windy autumn day, the sort that you usually associate with the game. While it’s not in the forecast, expect some extra racism too, as the Curva Sud will remain open. Given that fans levelled racist chants at Mario Balotelli two weeks ago and that Serie A briefly closed down the stand before capitulating to the lowest elements of its constituency, it’s another disgusting episode in a league that’s specialized in them of late.
In their return to Serie A after a year-long absence, Hellas are flying high in 10th place with 15 points. With 6 points from their past 5 matches, they’re not in sterling form, but they’ve made it clear that they’re just the sort of outfit that won’t have to fight too hard to avoid relegation, which is surely a delight for a recently-promoted side.
Manager Ivan Jurić has accomplished this feat by creating the second-best defense in Serie A; they’ve conceded just 11 times, although they’ve only scored 10. He’s got quite an injury list to work around, though, with CB Marash Kumbulla (hamstring), LB Alessandro Crescenzi (suspension), LB Luigi Vitale (knee), CM Miguel Veloso (calf), CM Daniele Bessa (groin), CM Emmanuel Badu (blood clot in lungs, which yikes), and LW Antonio di Gaudio (suspension) all out or doubtful. That shouldn’t impact the Croatian mister’s usual 3-4-2-1. Also keep an eye out for ex-Viola players Giampaolo Pazzini, Samuel di Carmine, and Alan Empereur, as well as potential transfer target Valerio Verre.
As you’d expect from a team with this sort of defensive record, the Scaligeri like to sit very deep and soak up pressure before breaking quickly down the wings. They pack the box and dare teams to shoot from distance and happily kick the bejeezus out of opponents all over the pitch before hammering the ball long and hoping a runner or two get forward on the counter. Veloso’s absence could be critical, as he leads the club in goals and assists, so expect an even more negative script than usual from Jurić’s men.
With just 5 points from their last 5 matches, the most recent of which was a comprehensive 5-2 drubbing in Sardinia at the hands of Giovanni Simeone and Cagliari, it’s safe to say that the Viola are slumping pretty hard at the moment. The club still sits in 9th place with 16 points, but a loss here would drop them to the bottom half. With Napoli (19 points) in the final European place, though, there’s still plenty of hope for a resurgent season if the players can unkink some issues on the pitch.
Manager Vincenzo Montella will be thrilled to have Franck Ribery back from suspension, although he’ll have to do without midfielders Gaetano Castrovilli and Erick Pulgar, who are both suspended. That means we could see Szymon Żurkowski make his first competitive start next to Milan Badelj and Marco Benassi, with Sebastian Cristoforo and Bryan Dabo also in the mix. With Ribery back, though, the focus will be on the forward duo, especially with Federico Chiesa in resounding form after a stunning display against Armenia.
Lacking Castrovilli’s dribbling ability in the middle, Fiorentina could struggle to create much through the middle. Against a well-drilled opponent, the burden will fall squarely on Chiesa and Ribery to do something special while absorbing a lot of punishment. Benassi’s runs into the box from deep could prove useful here, as Badelj probably won’t need too much support in the middle, and Dalbert and Lirola will both probably be allowed to stay up the pitch as well to provide extra width. Really, though, it’s going to come down to the front two.
How to watch
TV: Looks like RAI will have this in most countries. Check the full international television listings here.
Online: Here is your list of safe, reliable, and legal streams. If you’re in the US, ESPN+ is showing it; sign up using this link if you don’t have an account yet and Viola Nation will get a little bit of cash (Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links.).
Ted’s Memorial Blind Guess Department
This feels like the sort of game where the first team to score will get all three points. Especially with Giua steering the play, this is well set up to be a physical, gritty affair with a lot of ugly play in the middle. If Fiorentina can avoid frustration and stick to the plan, a result feels likely, considering how little threat Hellas offer going forward. We’re going to call it a 0-1 win, then, with a second-half Chiesa goal the difference.